Tracing Your Cherokee Roots
Unearth your Cherokee genealogy with this informational resource guide and begin tracing your Cherokee heritage in Oklahoma.
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The Cherokee Nation, headquartered in present-day Tahlequah, consists of descendents from members of the old Cherokee Nation who were forced to relocate to Oklahoma, formerly known as Indian Territory. Today, the Cherokee Nation is thriving once again with over 280,000 members enrolled in the nation and over 180,000 living within Oklahoma’s borders. With a dedication to the preservation and promotion of Cherokee history and culture, the Cherokee Nation is firmly committed to helping people in their search for their Cherokee ancestry. If you think you might be Cherokee, the question becomes, “Where do you start?”
So You Think You Might Be Cherokee
If you suspect that you could be part Cherokee or have a Cherokee ancestor, the best place to start is at the beginning: with yourself! Once you have your information documented, you can then start working backwards forming a paper trail along the way. The goal is to prove that your suspected Cherokee relative is in fact of Cherokee descent and is also related to you.
Begin your search with gathering your birth certificate, your parents’ birth, death and marriage certificates, your grandparents’ birth, death and marriage certificates, and so forth. After 1908, the state of Oklahoma began requiring that all birth, death and marriage certificates be filed with the state. These records are kept within the Bureau of Vital Statistics at the State Department of Health, located in the state capitol. Information regarding birth and death certificates within the state of Oklahoma can be found here.
Continue gathering information until you can go no further, and then start organizing your information on basic pedigree charts and family group sheets. Make sure to include as much information as possible. Helpful categories include full given and maiden names, complete dates of birth, death or marriage and complete locations such as city, county and state. Armed with this treasure trove of information, it’s time to start researching your Cherokee roots!
History of Cherokee Records and Rolls
Every search for Cherokee ancestry will inevitably include thorough research using a variety of Cherokee records and Cherokee “rolls,” which are written documents containing historical catalogs of tribal members. During your search, it will be helpful to know the history of Cherokee records and how Cherokee rolls impact tribal membership today. A brief history of these records is included below.
It is important to note that the Cherokees did not have a written language until 1821 and they did not begin keeping written records of deaths or marriages until well after that time. The first documentation of tribal members by individual name was conducted by the United States government in 1817 with the Reservation Roll and the 1817-1835 Emigration Rolls. These rolls contained limited genealogical information and only listed head of households and numbers of family members. Similar such rolls and records include a Cherokee census of 1835, an 1848 census, the 1851 Drennen roll, 1851 Old Settlers and the 1851 Siler Rolls, among others between 1851-1896.
Cherokee Nation Courthouse Records
After removal to Indian Territory, the Cherokee Nation formed districts and built courthouses. Within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation, nine districts were created. These districts included Cooweescoowee, Delaware, Canadian, Flint, Goingsnake, Illinois, Skin Bayou (later Sequoyah), Saline and Tahlequah. Each district contained a courthouse, which kept records such as marriage, estate, probate, will, court, estray and more on file. These records are known for being intermittent; however, they remain kept on microfilm as Cherokee National Records.
Begin your journey into the exciting and rewarding realm of Cherokee genealogy.
The Dawes Roll
The Dawes Act, passed by Congress in 1887, called for the allotment of land for all Native peoples in the United States. After many Cherokees refused to come forward to receive their land, Congress passed the Curtis Act in 1898 that forced the Cherokees to accept land allotments. To qualify for Dawes, a person had to prove they were legal residents of the Cherokee Nation and had to be listed on the 1880 and/or 1896 Cherokee Nation censuses. Actual applications for the Dawes Final Roll were made from 1900-1902 and the roll was finalized on March 4, 1906.
In addition to granting Cherokees United States citizenship, the Dawes Final Roll was also the first time the Cherokee people had ever provided information such as the year and date of marriages, proof of marriage, and affidavits of both births and deaths on an official roll. Today, citizenship in the Cherokee Nation is based solely on the Dawes Final Roll. This standard of citizenship was written into the 1975 Cherokee Nation Constitution, as it was felt that the Dawes Final Roll was the only complete record of who had citizenship in the Cherokee Nation at the time of statehood. Those seeking Cherokee citizenship today must trace their family lineage back to a Cherokee citizen listed on the Dawes Final Roll.
Guion Miller Roll
The 1906-1909 Guion Miller Roll, while not determining citizenship into the Cherokee Nation, is worth noting based on its genealogical importance and wealth of information contained within its pages. The Miller Roll, which organized monetary payments from the U.S. to a handful of citizens, contains genealogical information such as full names, parents’ names, grandparents’ names, dates of birth, places of birth, English and Cherokee names, dates of death, names of applicant’s brothers and sisters, residence in 1851 and more.
Cherokee Family Research Center – Getting Started
Now that you have gathered as much of your family history as possible and have a working knowledge of Cherokee records, it’s time to dive right in and search for your Cherokee roots! The Cherokee Family Research Center, located at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, is one of the best resources for beginning your journey into the exciting and rewarding realm of Cherokee genealogy. With resources detailing the Cherokee people from the Trail of Tears (1838-1839) to the Dawes Enrollment (1900-1906), the Cherokee Family Research Center is able to help visitors with Cherokee documents, family histories and personalized research. As an added bonus, genealogists are on staff to help provide research into your family tree.
Some of the resources available at the Cherokee Family Research Center include:
- 1880 Authenticated Roll of the Cherokee Nation
- 1890 Census for the Cherokee Nation by B. Benge
- Dawes Roll "Plus" (Index) by Bob Blankenship
- Guion Miller Roll "Plus" (Index) by Bob Blankenship
- 1900 Federal Census, Cherokee Nation, partial
- 1924 Baker Roll (Final Roll of the Eastern Band)
- Cherokee By Blood (8 vols.) by Jerry W. Jordan
- 1842 Cherokee Nation Claims (9 vols.) by Marybelle Chase
- 1851 Drennen Roll Census, Cherokee Nation
- 1817-1835 Cherokee Emigration Rolls by J. Baker
- Cherokee Nation Marriages, 1884-1901
- Cherokee Roots Volumes 1 and 2
- Dawes Roll Index (2 vols.)
- 1817-1838 Emigrant Roll by Jack D. Baker
- Exploring Your Cherokee Ancestry by Tom Mooney
- Guion Miller Roll Index (2 vols.)
- Index to Cherokee Advocate 1844-1879 (2 vols.)
- Index to Civil War Service Records, Watie's Cherokee Regiments by Marybelle Chase
- Indian Home Guards Civil War Service Records by Marybelle Chase
- 1835 Cherokee Census by Trail of Tears Assoc.
- Old Cherokee Families (3 vols.) by Jack D. Baker & David Hampton
- Our People and Where They Rest (12 vols.) by Tyner and Timmons (includes Master Index)
- Dawes Census Cards for Cherokees by Blood, Cherokee Minors and Cherokee Freedmen
- Dawes Applications for Cherokees by Blood and Cherokee Minors
- Guion Miller Applications
- 1851 Drennen Roll Census (Cherokee Nation)
- 1851 Chapman Roll (Eastern Cherokee Nation)
- 1883 Hester Roll (Eastern Cherokee Nation)
- Cherokee Nation Records, Oklahoma Historical Society (incomplete)
- Cherokee Advocate Newspapers, 1845-1906
- 1893 & 1896 Census and payment rolls for the Cherokee Nation
- 1851 Old Settlers Payment Roll
A complete list of the library’s holdings is available at CherokeeHeritage.org.
Plan Your Visit
Cherokee Family Research Center
21192 S. Keeler Drive
Park Hill, OK 74451
Toll Free: (888) 999-6007
If you are looking to independently research your family history using the library’s resources, the research center is open to anyone with paid museum admission to the Cherokee Heritage Center. While there, make sure to enjoy the museum’s exhibits detailing the Cherokee experience, walk through the moving Trail of Tears exhibit and take a tour of the Ancient Village to see a replica Cherokee village as it would have existed before European contact.
Visitors may also enlist the help of staff genealogists to complete the research on their behalf. Staff genealogists are available for an hourly fee. Specific research requests require an appointment. Bring all related family research materials and gathered documentation with you to the appointment.
Donations are always appreciated as they help maintain the library and ensure future resources can be added to the library’s holdings.
Research requests can be submitted here.
Additional Cherokee Resources in Oklahoma
Cherokee Nation related records are available on microfilm and can be found at the following locations in Oklahoma:
The Muskogee Public Library
801 W. Okmulgee
Muskogee, OK 74401
The Tulsa Genealogy Center
2901 S. Harvard Ave.
Tulsa, OK 74114
The Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department would like to extend special thanks to Gene Norris, Senior Genealogist at the Cherokee Family Research Center, as well as to the entire staff at the Cherokee Heritage Center for their assistance, time and resources that made this online guide possible. Wado!